Remember your own childhood trips to the nature preserve or history museum? While you were having fun and exploring new terrain, you probably didn't realize your teacher was exhausted from planning it all. Your students should have just as carefree a time on field trips, but you don't have to go through the same stress your teachers did. Simplify the way you deal with the biggest challenges of field trip planning.
Depending on your school's ratios, you may need two or three chaperones to accompany you on a field trip. And you don't want just warm bodies; you want chaperones who will be engaged and attentive.
Instead of begging for volunteers the week before the trip, start early in the year. Send parents a note asking for suggestions for local field trip destinations that they and their children will find interesting. You might get some new ideas, and when you pick places that parents are interested in, they'll be willing to come along.
Finally, if your school allows it, you might offer some other motivation too. For instance, let parents know that anyone who volunteers to chaperone won't be asked to participate in any fundraising campaigns for the rest of the year.
The biggest hassle around planning a field trip is paperwork. District request forms, transportation requests, medical clearance forms, forms required by the field trip facility, parent permission slips, chaperone forms, post-trip report forms... the list goes on and on. Planning a simple trip to the zoo can require 500 sheets of paper, and even the most organized teacher will have to track down missing permission slips and misplaced meal orders on the morning of the trip.
Paperwork should never keep your students from enjoying a day of hands-on learning. Streamline the process and save hours of frustration using an online paperwork management system like Informed K12. Parents and administrators can fill out and return forms electronically, making it easy for you to track what you have and what you still need. And eliminating all that paper is great for the environment.
Eliminating "What Ifs"
You can read every word of a facility's website, make endless checklists and solicit tips from people who have been to the location, but you still might reach your field trip destination and realize you don't know where the bathrooms are.
Visiting the location ahead of time can actually save you preparation time. Some field trip locales will offer free tours for teachers, or you can scout them out yourself. Ask staff members what issues they've seen other teachers and children experience at their facility or what tips they have for a successful trip. You might learn that kids often wander off from the main eating area and that using a smaller eating area would work better for your group.
Preparing the Class
Like substitutes and half days, field trips signal "day off" to some students. You want them to have fun, but not at the expense of learning. In addition to talking to students about safety procedures and acceptable behavior, involve them in creating a list of learning objectives. Ask what they expect to learn on the trip and how it might tie in with what you're learning in the classroom.
To incentivize students to pay attention during the trip, distribute a treasure hunt list of tasks to complete during the trip, such as finding certain facts, photographing certain landmarks and solving certain clues. Offer bonus points or other perks for students who complete the checklist. You might also create a template form that gives students places to write their expectations before the trip, notes during the trip and conclusions after the trip.
Creating these forms takes a little time upfront, but they'll save you time preparing for future trips.